Foundational knowledge is about developing fundamental understanding about the core concepts and principles of a certain area. It’s the basis for continued learning and development in any subject area, domain, or profession. Foundational knowledge is the set of basic building blocks upon which we build our skills and abilities to perform.
We know certain things are foundational. The ability to read, write, do basic mathematics, reason are critical to our ability to participate in society. If we are engineers or scientists, there are fundamental foundations in math, science, and analysis that enable us to build our skills to perform well. Likewise, as sellers, there are foundational skills, critical to our ability to engage customers and to do our jobs.
Without mastering these, we are seriously hampered in our ability to achieve our goals and perform at top levels.
First, why is a strong base of foundational knowledge to important?
- This provides a framework for all other learning/skills development. It helps us make sense of everything else we may have to learn to master something. Why something might be important, how the pieces/parts of the things we must learn to master our ability to perform. It helps us choose between alternatives, because we have the base knowledge to evaluate alternatives well.
- They provide the basis for understanding these other things and for critical thinking about these issues. As many technologies, tools, content, programs, and training tools we provide, if we can’t connect the dots between why we are doing these things, how they fit with what we are trying to achieve, and why they are important–we are never able to exploit these things for the greatest power and impact.
- Perhaps, most important, when thing change, when our playbooks are no longer relevant, when the reactions we might get no longer fit the script, foundational knowledge gives us the capability to figure things out. For example, we encounter this every day in our application of AI and large language models. It’s well know these tools have little ability to differentiate between good and bad answers, accurate and inaccurate recommendations. Without foundational knowledge, we have no ability to assess what we might get, as a result may be doing things that can produce tragic results.
In selling, what key elements of foundational knowledge and why are they important?
Contrary to what one might think, it’s not basic selling skills. It’s not the stuff we go through when we start a sales career, building prospecting, qualifying, questioning, presentation, objection handling, closing and other skills. It isn’t the skills we need to use the various tools that support our work.
Since selling is based on our ability to connect effectively and impact fully with people, our customers, foundational knowledge and skills of empathy and caring are critical to that ability to connect. We have to understand them, we have to understand their dreams and fears, what drives them. We have to build their trust–not only in us, but with each other and their confidence in the changes they are considering.
Since we are trying to understand what our customers face, what they are trying to achieve, what problems they have, what they might achieve but may not be aware of, some level of business and financial acumen is critical.
Since we are trying to help our customers think about and commit to change, critical thinking and problem solving skills become mandatory. Without this, we can’t help them navigate their change and buying process.
Many of the changes are very complex, involving many people in the organization, perhaps ecosystem partners, skills in collaborative conversations, consensus building, and project management are foundational.
Curiosity, perhaps, sit at the core of all of these. It’s our curiosity that drives us to figure these things out, for ourselves, with our customers, and within our own organizations.
All these skills become more important in highly turbulent, changing environments. They are mandatory to enable us and our customers to address things they may have never experienced–and which may be outside our own experience base.
And all of these can be taught and developed! We aren’t born with critical thinking/problem solving skills. We learn them, we experiment, we make mistakes. Some of us may be more curious by nature, but curiosity can be developed and enhanced–just look at foundational education for children. Likewise caring and empathy can be learned by seeing that demonstrated by those around us. When we are children, it’s our parent and teachers that start the process. As we move into the work world, it’s our managers, leaders, and the people we work with.
Now, the big question.
If these are so critical for our individual and shared success, what are we doing to learn, develop and continually improve them within our own organizations? What examples/role modeling do we see in our leaders and peers? What training do we get? What coaching and reinforcement do we get? How do we reward those that are demonstrating these skills and continue to develop them.
Even our ability to learn and execute more traditional selling skills is enhanced as we develop these foundational skills. We become more effective in our prospecting, qualifying and discovery. We become more impactful in helping our customer change and presenting them solutions to help them change. We become more skilled in handling differing points of view/opinions and objections.
Think of these foundational capabilities in a different way. They are as basic as reading, writing, arithmetic. We would never dream of hiring someone without those skills and encouraging them to continue to develop them. This applies to foundational skills as well.
But, sadly, this is neglected in too many organizations. And we have terabytes of data on declining performance, engagement, trust, showing us the impact of this neglect. Perhaps it’s time so invest in these foundational skills, how much longer will we accept this bad performance?